Two years after the pandemic began, Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr.; Paschal Nwako, Camden County health officer; and infectious diseases specialist Caryelle Lasher held what they hope will be the final COVID panel on March 3.
During the 40-minute session, they reflected on the last two years and discussed what communication from the county will look like moving forward.
Cappelli began by providing the usual county COVID numbers. Since the panel last convened on Feb. 14:
- Daily-case averages are down from 100 to 44 per day. Cappelli noted the number is a significant decrease from two months ago, when that average was around 1,500 per day.
- The county infection rate increased slightly from 0.57 to .65.
- Test positivity has decreased from 8.7 to 3.3 percent.
- The number of hospitalized residents went from 424 residents to 175 as of March 7.
- There were eight new COVID-related deaths in the last week.
- More than 400,000 residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 351,000 have received two doses and 165,000 have received a third dose or booster.
“Two years ago, we were scrambling to get masks,” Cappelli reflected. “We had hospitals calling us to see if we had any extra masks or gowns. It was almost like the wild West trying to get some of the PPE (personal protective equipment), but we got through it.”
Since March 2020, the county has emphasized COVID-safety measures that include masking, social distancing, vaccines and boosters. With cases on the decline and no reports of a new variant, the panel expressed hope that the virus will become endemic, meaning humans could safely live with it.
Nwako explained there could still be outbreaks of the virus that would qualify as epidemics and again force masking. For now, masks are optional both indoors and out and in crowded spaces.
“It’s advice, not a mandate, not a regulation,” Nwako said. “It’s better that way, so you don’t leave yourself just open to anything that can come into that environment.
“Use your common sense and judgment.”
Cappelli reported that the county and its partners in health care, like Cooper University Hospital and Cooper Specialty Care, will continue to provide testing for the foreseeable future, with rapid tests available at all pharmacies. He also reiterated that the Camden County Health Hub at Camden County College’s main campus in Blackwood continues to operate from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday.
In their final update, the three panelists described how their departments learned to work together during the pandemic, and the good that has come from it. Lasher recounted that COVID provided her the opportunity to build better partnerships between local government and health-care providers.
Cappelli acknowledged the immense effort made by people to stay safe and keep others safe during the pandemic, and the thousands of free meals distributed to families.
“(The pandemic) made us really aware of how interconnected the world is,” Lasher noted. “We can’t ever look at our health here (as) outside of the world.”
The county will continue updates about COVID through its website, camdencounty.com, and keep residents informed through town halls.